Cauliflower doesn’t have to be boring

“There are so many ways to adore you, cauliflower. I love you for your delicious, crumbly gratins baked for an hour in the oven on Friday evenings. I love your Monday night soups quickly whirled together and laced with mushrooms and herbes de Provence. I love your lazy Sunday afternoon curries served with coconut rice. But I think best of all I love you slow-roasted at 350 degrees for about an hour.”

Nicole Spiridakis

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”

Mark Twain

Cauliflower is part of the vegetable family that includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and collard greens. These are all robust fall vegetables that are full of flavor and nutrition. They are high in dietary fiber and vitamin C and also contain several phytochemicals that are beneficial to human health, including the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane.

Choosing the right cooking method is important with cauliflower because when not handled properly it can be strong tasting or mushy and lose much of its nutritional value. Roasting, stir-frying, blanching and just eating it raw are the best methods, while long cooking in boiling water is the worst. Cauliflower is very adaptable in the way it accepts seasonings and pairs well with other vegetables and starches. It is also good when pickled. Here are some suggestions:

Roasted Cauliflower with Pumpkin and Chickpeas

Cut one head of cauliflower into small florets. Cut a small Long Island cheese pumpkin into wedges and peel off the skin, removing seeds. Cut the wedges into 1-inch chunks and set aside.

Heat a sautà pan and add 1/4 cup olive oil. Add to this 1 tablespoon sliced garlic, 2 teaspoons minced ginger, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Cook for 1 minute and add 1 thinly sliced onion. Cook for 3 minutes and transfer to a large bowl. Add the cauliflower florets and pumpkin and toss with the seasonings and oil. Place this on a sheet pan and roast in a 400-degree oven until tender and brown, about 25 minutes. Add 2 small cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and roast another 5 minutes. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with grilled chicken or other grilled foods.

Serves 4-6.

Potato and Cauliflower Pie

Peel and cut 1 pound of potatoes into large chunks. Place them in boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and mash. Add 1/2 cup chopped scallion, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir in seasonings and press mixture into a 10-inch glass pie plate (or similar casserole), using a rubber spatula to press potato against the sides. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut one head of cauliflower into small florets. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt and the juice of one lemon. Add the cauliflower and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash the cauliflower with a potato masher.

In a separate pan melt 3 tablespoons butter and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and a minced jalapeno pepper (seeds removed). Sautà briefly and stir in 3 cups rinsed and trimmed kale, cut into 1-inch pieces. Cover the pan and cook until kale is wilted, about 3 minutes. Add this mixture to the mashed cauliflower and stir in one beaten egg. Add salt and pepper to taste and spread over baked potato crust in pie pan. Grate 2 cups of Gruyîre cheese and sprinkle over the cauliflower mixture. Return to the oven and cook until cheese melts, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4-6.

Cauliflower Gratin

Cut 1 head of cauliflower into small florets. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and the cauliflower. Cook until cauliflower is just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and place in a casserole dish.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add 1/4 cup flour. Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in 2 cups milk. Cook slowly until sauce thickens and stir in 1/4 cup prepared horseradish and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grate 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg into it and pour sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle 1 cup grated white cheddar cheese over the top. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a sautà pan and add 1 cup panko crumbs. Stir until they begin to brown, then sprinkle over casserole. Place in a 350-degree oven and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.

Serves 4.

Cauliflower and Leek Soup

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a soup pot and add 3 finely chopped leeks (white part only) and 1 cup chopped onion. Stir in 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and cook slowly until onions are soft. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Gradually stir in 4 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add 1 head of cauliflower that has been cut into 1-inch florets (about 6 cups). Simmer for 30 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender. Add 1 cup heavy cream and season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg. Check for seasoning and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Pickled Cauliflower, Carrots and White Onions

Cut one head of cauliflower into small florets. Peel and cut 4 carrots into bite-sized pieces. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a large saucepan and plunge 18 white onions into the water for 1 minute. Drain and peel.

Dry out the pan and place it back on the heat, adding 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1 teaspoon fennel seed. When the seeds are toasted (about 3 minutes) add 2 cups water and 2 cups white wine vinegar. Stir in 6 tablespoons sugar and season with 4 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the carrots. Cook for 2 minutes and add the onions. Cook for 2 minutes and add the cauliflower. Cover and cook for 2 more minutes and remove from the stove. Place in a bowl to cool. Chill in the refrigerator and serve as an hors d’oeuvre.

Serves 4-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].